Mercedes technical director James Allison has expressed his shock at the team’s unexpectedly poor performance at the Brazilian Grand Prix, where their usual racing strength seemed to have disappeared.
Lewis Hamilton barely managed an eighth place finish and George Russell was forced to retire with engine problems, in stark contrast to their victorious double at the same venue last year.
A disappointing performance
The 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix was a race that Mercedes Benz AMG would prefer to forget. The team known for its strategic brilliance and dominant performances of what now feels like another lifetime ago, suffered an uncharacteristic slump even by their current standards. With Lewis Hamilton clinging on to eighth place and George Russell forced to retire, the race was a far cry from the team’s usual prowess and certainly the worst of their current campaign.
The contrast of expectations
Mercedes arrived at the Brazilian Grand Prix expecting to continue their upward trajectory, fuelled by recent performances that suggested a resurgence. However, as the race progressed, it became clear that the Silver Arrows were struggling with much deeper problems than expected. Instead of challenging for podium finishes, they found themselves struggling with fundamental car problems that affected their speed and efficiency.
The problems were many and varied. The rear wing, designed to provide downforce and stability, instead created significant drag, crippling the W14’s straight-line speed. Furthermore, tyre degradation, typically a controlled variable for Mercedes’ strategists, spiralled out of control, leaving Hamilton and Russell struggling for grip and pace.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is no stranger to adversity. However, the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix saw him struggle to get performance out of his car. He found himself in an unfamiliar position, battling in the midfield rather than at the front. This drop in performance was not only a blow to the team, but also to Hamilton’s legacy of relentless competitiveness.
For George Russell, the race was a nightmare. Initially hampered by a lack of pace, his race was cut short by a cooling problem that forced his car to retire. The setback was a stark reminder of the reliability issues that have occasionally plagued the team in the turbo-hybrid era.
Admission: Allison’s email to Mercedes staff
Allison shared his feelings with the factory team in an email, describing his bewilderment.
“I feel beaten for six,” he admitted on the F1 Nation podcast. He had been expecting a strong performance, if not a win, and certainly believed they would be in contention for the podium. The weekend’s results were far from what he could have imagined, even in his “wildest dreams”.
“I just wrote an email back to the factory saying I feel knocked for six by it,” he said.
“Because we came here, it would have been too much to imagine a repeat of last year because the stars would have to align for that, but I thought we’d be troubling the podium. Now you could say, ‘Well, you’ve been undone by your own hubris’ but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that we would have the torrid weekend we just had…”
Silver lining to disappointment
However, Allison sees a silver lining to the disappointment. He suggests that the team’s poor results were probably due to a specific mistake, something they could identify and correct. The ever-present possibility of redemption in racing means that Mercedes could potentially bounce back in the coming races and put their Brazilian nightmare to bed.
“In some ways, there’s a comfort in that because we must have just got something wrong and we’ll go off and uncover what that was. And with a bit of luck, under the lovely thing that racing gives you, a couple of weeks’ time we’ll come back and and hopefully put it to bed.”
Concerns over tyre degradation
Rapid tyre wear, particularly at the rear, was a major problem for both drivers. It led to a snappy rear end and significant understeer – both tyre degradation factors that Mercedes had managed to avoid in most previous races.
With every twist of the throttle and turn of the wheel, the tyres were increasingly worn down, resulting in a performance that Allison described as “more than mediocre”.
“The main issue was hot rear tyres, which would give you a snappier end and would give you the sort of tyre degradation we saw, but also an annoying amount of understeer,” says Allison.
“Now, when you’ve got a balance that’s all at sea like that it’s very easy to nibble away – with every bit of throttle you put down, every turn of the wheel – a bit of the tyres. And we’ve got it in a place where a single lap face that was okay, very quickly became more than mediocre as we gobbled our tyres up.”
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